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Riverhead Democrats say nothing has changed downtown

06/24/2017 6:00 AM |

“Basically, nothing much as changed in the last two years.”

That’s how Democratic supervisor candidate Laura Jens-Smith described downtown Riverhead after she and her running mates, Catherine Kent and Michele Lynch, led the media on a “walking tour” of the area last week.

Two years ago, when Ms. Jens-Smith ran for town council, the Democratic Town Board candidates did a similar tour of downtown.

“[Supervisor Sean Walter’s] response the last time we did the tour was that in a couple of years, Main Street would be booming and no one would say another word,” Ms. Smith said. “But we still have 14 vacant stores, we still have businesses struggling to stay afloat, parking has not been adequately addressed and the safety concerns still exist.”

“I think that’s the about the silliest thing I’ve heard, and it’s an insult to people like Georgia Malone and Joe Petrocelli and John Peragine,” Mr. Walter responded, referring to business owners who have built new projects in downtown Riverhead.

He added that at least $120 million is being invested in downtown Riverhead, alluding to new apartments and hotels either proposed or being built there.

In an interview Monday, Ms. Jens-Smith, said the town cannot allow new apartment buildings to be built unless they provide their own parking.

Currently, there are 404 units of existing or proposed rental housing in the downtown area.

These include 170 units from the Metro Group, which plans to develop the former Sears site on East Main Street; 118 units from Georgica Green Ventures, which seeks to replace the former McCabes/Dinosaur Walk Museum building, also on East Main, with apartments; and 45 units at Peconic Crossing, which has full approvals and is under construction on West Main Street at the former site of the Long Island Science Center.

Already completed are Summerwind Square, with 52 units on Peconic Avenue, and the Woolworth Apartments, with 19 units on the second floor of the former Woolworth store.

Because these projects are located in the town’s parking district, for which they pay a special tax, they are entitled to use public parking.

But Ms. Jens-Smith says there isn’t enough available parking in the parking district to accommodate these apartments.

“Don’t get me wrong, you need apartments and you need that foot traffic,” she said. “But there’s got to be a smarter way to accomplish it.”

She suggested considering things like diagonal parking, parking designed for smaller vehicles and senior citizen parking spaces, as well as 15-minute parking in some areas.

Mr. Walter said the Town Board is planning to require apartments to make a payment in lieu of parking, which would go into a fund to pay for additional parking.

He said the town has “a parking inconvenience,” rather than a parking problem.

“A parking problem is when there is no parking anywhere,” he said. The apartments, he said, are needed to bring foot traffic to the area.

Ms. Jens-Smith also said the town has a problem with aesthetics downtown.

“Nothing has been done to enhance the aesthetics downtown. It’s just a mish-mosh of signs and light poles, and garbage dumpsters in the Riverfront parking lot are always open and stinky.

“They are supposed to be locked shut. That’s the first thing people see when they park in that back parking lot there, by the beautiful river.”

Mr. Walter said the dumpsters used to be behind individual restaurants. He said he doesn’t like the dumpster corrals, but “it’s better than what used to be there.”

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